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School vandalism suggests gang link
Aug 22, 2005 12:00 am
August 20, 2005
Graffiti scrawled across a white board and class door at the scene of Wednesday's Mt. Juliet Middle School burglary and vandalism may be a term used in gang situations, police authorities said.
More disturbing than smashed computers, holes punched in walls and total destruction of four portable classrooms at the school was the presence of graffiti including the word "Darkness."
"'Darkness' from our understanding is what we believe to be a term used in some gang situations," Mt. Juliet Police Chief Kenneth Martin said Friday. "Anytime we run into words and signs like this we will investigate to determine what hidden meanings they have."
The word, along with the word "Crunk," a swastika and more were written at the scene allegedly by former Mt. Juliet High School student 18-year-old Chancelor T. Jackson and a current Mt. Juliet High School freshman. Both confessed to the crime and were arrested by Mt. Juliet Police. The younger suspect was a student at Mt. Juliet Middle School for two years, school officials confirmed.
Martin said the word "Crunk" generally is a term meaning getting high. More graffiti found scribbled in large letters on the walls and doors at the scene included such phrases and words as "shrooms," "evil," and "smoke weed."
The crime falls on the heels of a series of vandalisms that have swept through Wilson County School System starting weeks ago. Two Watertown High School students have been charged for vandalizing their school, while an investigation into the recent destruction of the Lebanon High School football field is ongoing, Wilson County Schools Director of Safety David Burton.
"There's been a rash of these types of crimes already this year," Burton said. "It's very disturbing."
The safety director was at Mt. Juliet Middle School on Wednesday morning to evaluate the damage. The burglary and vandalism at the school occurred near midnight Wednesday, Aug. 17. Two portables were broken into and vandalized with graffiti, broken computers and televisions, holes punched in walls and mass destruction of furniture and books.
Burton said the graffiti was disturbing, but the term "Darkness" was new to him. However, the safety director pointed out the school system "obviously" has gang members enrolled.
"But there is no gang activity," he said. "You can't arrest someone for being a gang member, they have to commit a crime to do that."
Mt. Juliet High School Principal Mel Brown confirmed the adult suspect arrested in the Mt. Juliet Middle School crime attended his school last year, "but dropped out during the year." He also said the younger suspected accomplice was enrolled at Mt. Juliet High School this school year but had not attended regularly since classes started.
Burton said the police told him the suspects said they were bored and looking for something to do.
Strange graffiti that may have connections to gang activity is a problem, Martin said.
"Anytime we have something like that on school property or other buildings in Wilson County and Mt. Juliet, it concerns me," the police chief said. "We are investigating further."
When Mt. Juliet Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Tansy Traywick arrived at her portable classroom close to 7 a.m. Thursday morning, several students were waiting to get in. She said the door was cracked open and the first thing she saw was her file cabinet knocked over and water all over the floor.
"My big screen television was laying across the top of my desk and my computer had a hole in it," she said. "Everything was totally destroyed."
She said the graffiti was insulting. Damage to the other three classrooms was just as extensive with corn syrup poured in computer keyboards, wires torn out of televisions and damage from discharged fire extinguishers. Traywick said luckily, her collage made up of pictures of her students from the past four years was salvageable, though it was found in three inches of water.
"The first thing I thought was, there's no way any of our babies from this school could have done this," she said sadly. "I've heard of the suspects, but I never taught them."
Mt. Juliet Middle School principal Mike Gwaltney confirmed the younger suspect attended his school in seventh- and eighth-grade He said the only infraction on record for the student was a dress code violation.
"I'm very disappointed in all of this," Gwaltney said. "That one was a former student. I was assured that student had no ill will toward anyone here. I was told they said they were looking for something to do. I'm disappointed all they have to do is find something to destroy."
Damage to the building and its contents is estimated at $15,000. Mt. Juliet Detective Jason Ezell obtained written confessions from both suspects admitting their participation in the burglaries.
Jackson was charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of vandalism greater than $1,000 and less than $10,000 and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The juvenile will be charged with two counts of burglary and two counts of vandalism greater than $1,000 and less than $10,0000.
Gwaltney said a cleaning crew will work through the weekend and classes will resume in the portables Monday.
The Mt. Juliet High School freshman has been suspended from school and faces a Tuesday disciplinary hearing where further punishment will be decided, Burton said. Restitution for damages will be pursued aggressively, the safety director said.
Mt. Juliet Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 754-6397 or e-mail at email@example.com.